I stare at the images of my students in various levels of resolution, their faces stacked like Tetris. I have the power to silence thirteen voices with the click of a button. They stare at their screens but never at the camera, our eyes never meeting. We resort to a gestural language, elevating hands into our small boxes and turning our thumbs up or down. Can you hear me?
One student’s face is bisected by the screen, only the top of his head visible. He seems to be floating in the sky.
I drift through the Breakout Rooms like a digital ghost, feeling that I’m eavesdropping even when I know it’s my job, missing the clusters of desks and the side-questions normally snuck into the lesson of the day. I land in a Room where two partners are meant to be working and see just one face, gazing forlornly at the screen. In the other square, piles of clothes rain in front of the camera before disappearing into a shaky tumult, accompanied by the dull thunder of laundry machines.
I have been talking several minutes before I realize my hands were doing most of the speaking, just below the camera view.
In a forty-person literature seminar the professor attempts to begin by unmuting us all, unleashing a cacophony of life into my headphones. Various names and faces flash on screen, exchanging places as they speak over each other. But one square floats at the top and stays there. Her video is disabled, and yet an unbroken conversation is broadcast for all to hear: Getting ready to move. What did your mom say? I don’t think that’s the right call. No they wouldn’t be doing that if it wasn’t kind of serious, right? Yeah, that’s ridiculous. Sure. It will be fine, I think….
Record glows red at the top.
My fifteen-inch window lets me peer into the other lives previously anonymized by rows of desks. I see a faded white wall. Dorm-room cork board covered in notes. Corner window with just a sliver of façade visible. 112th Street? The professor seems in danger of drowning beneath the wall of books. Only one blue title thick enough to read. Infinite Jest.
Did you know on Zoom you can change the appearance of your environment to a pristine beach, wind gently blowing the fronds of palms, ocean pulsing delicately at the edge of white sand?
–March 17, 2020
Skye Savage is a graduate student and instructor in New York City. Their creative work involves a variety of media and most recently has included photography published in Barren Magazine.